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Defensive credentials of new Pelicans associate head coach Darren Erman

Dell Demps wants to play with pace, but needed to improve the defense. He found a coach who has built a defense playing fast in Boston.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are wasting no time assembling a coaching staff around new head coach Alvin Gentry. First up, the associate head coach, Darren Erman. Erman's hire was reported by Adrian Wojnarowski earlier this morning. Also included in that report, news that the Pelicans are also pursuing former OKC assistant Robert Pack. Erman is the big fish to discuss, the defensive mind to provide the yang to Gentry's yin.

Erman's NBA coaching career began with the Boston Celtics in 2007. He was a scout and handled player skill development while with the Celtics during his first tenure. He was then hired by Mark Jackson, again as an assistant coach with player development responsibilities. After the departure of Wes Unseld from the coaching staff in 2012 Erman was promoted to the number three assistant under Jackson.

Two years later Erman was fired by the Warriors for a violation of company policy. That violation was later revealed to be taping conversations between coaches. That dissmal was the culmination of Mark Jackson's "us against them" campaign, and according to Sports Illustrated writer Chris Mannix a "hatchet job". Erman's transgression was not looked upon too unfavorably; he was hired just weeks later by the Boston Celtics.

Role in Boston last season

Erman was hired by the Celtics in 2014 as the Director of NBA Scouting. However, after the Golden State Warriors hired away Ron Adams Boston head coach Brad Stevens had a vacancy on the bench. They chose to fill that void internally by promoting Darren Erman to assistant coach. Stevens had rave reviews of Erman as training camp began in October.

"Darren’s really a great defensive coach," Stevens said. "He’s more than that. I think sometimes we pigeon-hole guys because he’s obviously specialized in that. But he is detail-oriented as detail-oriented gets. If your hands aren’t in the right place as you’re guarding in a pick-and-roll, or if your body positioning’s not at the right angle, or you don’t guard the post in the exact right way, he’ll stop it and he’ll correct it."

When Ron Adams left for the Warriors this summer, Jay Larranaga was promoted to the top assistant. Erman, initially hired in a scouting role, was shifted to the bench. The rest of the assistants – Jamie Young, Micah Shrewsberry and Walter McCarty – all remain the same as last season.

Ron Adams is considered the gold standard of defensive assistants in the NBA. During the 2013-14 season, with Adams as the primary defensive mind, the Celtics finished 18th in defensive rating according to Basketball Reference. This season Boston finished 12th in defensive rating, shaving off 3.2 points per 100 possessions.

More importantly, the Celtics improved on defense while playing faster. In 2013-14 Boston finished 17th in pace, averaging 93.3 possessions per game. Last year the Celtics finished 5th with 95.8 possessions per game. Even more impressive, in the second half of the season Boston was the 9th best defense in the league according to NBA Stats, allowing just 100.5 points per 100 possessions.

The most impressive part of all of that is looking at the roster. Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart are all plus defenders. Look at the big men, and shield your eyes. Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Jonas Jerebko, and Brandon Bass? No wonder the Celtics finished dead last in the NBA in blocked shots. Boston manufactured a good defense without shot blocking by keeping opponents out of the restricted area at a much higher rate than the Pelicans did this season.

Team Restricted Area Paint Mid Range Above Break Corner 3 Defensive Rating
NOLA 2014-15 36.71% (1.20) 15.38% (0.79) 24.50% (0.79) 18.31% (0.96) 5.10% (1.18) 104.7 (22nd)
BOS 2014-15 31.75% (1.23) 16.44% (0.84) 25.97% (0.77) 18.83% (0.98) 7.01% (1.10) 102.1 (12th)

Statistics from NBA Stats

Reaction to the hire

So far reactions to the hire have been unanimously positive.

The Pelicans are committed to playing fast. Gentry as the head coach hire made that obvious. Now they have brought in a defensive mind who has been successful crafting a defense at a frenetic pace. Erman is also very young, about 40 considering he graduated college in 1997. Could Erman be a part of the eventual succession plan for the 60 year old Alvin Gentry?

If the Pelicans are set on building a dynasty around Anthony Davis long term success needs to be in the back of their mind at Airline Drive.